In one day she went from a happy-go-lucky kid to a serious Navy sailor all because of a horrific event in our nation's history.
Madeline Chaffee is a regular at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Lyndonville, but Wednesday it was special. Vermont officials from the Veterans of Foreign Wars honored Madeline in a surprise ceremony for her service in the Navy.
"Glad I see someone from the World War II," said Madeline
To their knowledge, she's the last survivor of Pearl Harbor living in Vermont. She will be 97 in January. For Madeline, it's hard to talk about the day that President Roosevelt proclaimed "will live in infamy."
"Because of the devastation, I was standing right there when I saw bodies, planes, people, buildings, everything just blow up, the ships, all those ships went down," sent Madeline.
The Massachusetts native was sent to the Hawaiian island just a day before the attack by the Japanese. The 21-year-old arrived in peacetime; less than 24 hours later, the country was at war.
"The clouds were just full of airplanes with little Rising Suns and all kinds of bombs were dropping," said Madeline.
Over 2,400 Americans were killed in the two-hour attack. Madeline was nearly killed when a bomb hit close by.
"It could of been me, I ended up under the table," Madeline.
She was a parachute rigger, inspecting and folding them up for use again.
"I told them if it didn't work bring it back," Madeline
Madeline stayed at Pearl Harbor until the end of the war. She even went up in planes as a spotter, hunting Japanese subs from the sky.
Madeline: I've jumped!
Reporter Joe Carroll: You've jumped!
Madeline: I don't think I would now, but I did then!
Madeline retired as a lieutenant colonel. Later she was in the Civil Air Patrol with her husband, Jack, and became a science teacher in California. Twenty years ago, she and her late husband fell in love with Vermont and settled in East Rygate. Wednesday, Madeline received a national certificate of recognition from the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"While upstanding the esteem core values of the United States Navy...your selfless and sincere actions are in tribute to all who have worn the uniform of our nation," read Joe Gilmond, VFW State Adjutant.
"I will cherish this moment forever, believe me, I will. But you know, I don't feel that I've done anything more than you gentlemen that are here," said Madeline.
Madeline has forgiven those who launched the attack, but not forgotten. It's a fateful day that will live with her forever.
Madeline wouldn't rule out skydiving again if it was a tandem jump like President Bush did on his 90th birthday
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